Tuesday, August 6th, 2013
Phoenix, Hot Chip, Girl Talk, and more at The Grove Fest in Toronto
Frank YangThere’s been a narrative this Summer about Toronto’s music festival scene going through a sort of Renaissance, with events like Field Trip, TURF, Mad Decent’s Block Party, and Riot Fest establishing both the city’s niche in the greater festival hierarchy – solid second-tier, not-quite-destination events for under 10,000 people – as well as affirming Garrison Common at Fort York as the perfect venue for said events in terms of size and location (unless you live in one of the condos next door in which case too bad). This past Saturday’s The Grove Fest wasn’t originally part of this narrative when it was first announced back in March, being set an hour away in Niagara-On-The-Lake, but it was certainly of interest to festival-goers from the 416 what with an eclectic lineup drafting off those acts commuting between Lollapalooza in Chicago and Osheaga in Montreal, boasting acts like Phoenix and Hot Chip.
But while the multi-genre/demographic randomness of the performers was reminiscent of the Rogers Picnics of the mid-’00s – The Roots with the New Pornographers and Bad Brains? Animal Collective with City & Colour and Dizzee Rascal? – the Grove Fest quickly began to feel more like the chronically snakebit Virgin Fests of the same era. Barely a month after being announced, the festival was moved from Niagara to the aforementioned Garrison Common in downtown Toronto – no official reason was given though soft sales and local opposition are reasonable suspects – and three acts dropped off the bill, with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Pretty Lights, and Bob Mould presumably taking advantages of out clauses in their contracts to book their own, more lucrative shows or just not bother. And just when it seemed the dust had settled, Swedish electro-party duo Icona Pop dropped off the bill earlier this week for their own unannounced reasons. Disappointing? Definitely. Disastrous? Not necessarily; the remaining lineup was still solid and guaranteed to put on a good show, and if enough people still showed up – and one would think the number of complimentary tickets circulating would more than make up for those who demanded refunds – it would still be a fun time.
Arriving a couple acts into the day – apologies Nightbox and Young Empires, had things to do – it was heartening to see that there was already a solid turnout, less concerned with the drama leading up to the day than the entertainment to follow. But things still weren’t quite clockwork – I thought I had arrived just in time to catch Wavves, as per the schedule on the festival website, but instead it was brash Brit newcomers Palma Violets who took the stage – the only thing more head-scratching than the switch was that hardly anyone seemed to notice or care.
This was Palma Violets’ third visit to Toronto since January, and it was good to see that their heavy touring schedule between then and now – to say nothing of actually releasing an album in 180 – had produced solid returns. Ironically, the rough-and-tumble pub rock persona that seemed a bit put-on in an actual bar came across much better on a large festival stage. Bassist “Chilli” Jesson had the moves for getting the audience engaged and the girls shrieking down pat, making up for guitarist Sam Fryer’s distraction at having to play through an amp that was buzzing louder than his actual guitar signal. As their set closer, they invited local political pundit and former punk rocker Warren Kinsella to contribute vocals on a cover by his old band, The Hot Nasties. Pretty sure no one knew who he was.
Photos: Palma Violets @ Garrison Common – August 3, 2013
Video: Palma Violets – “We Found Love”
Video: Palma Violets – “Step Up For The Cool Cats”
Video: Palma Violets – “Last Of The Summer Wine”
Video: Palma Violets – “Best Of Friends
I’d pretty much confirmed that Wavves and their stoner-garage-surf-pop wasn’t really my thing after seeing the at NXNE 2010, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t still be impressed at how they’ve improved as an outfit since then. Now a four-piece, with a second guitarist backing up frontman Nathan Williams, the material from their just-out third album Afraid Of Heights sounded more polished and sophisticated than their older stuff, but without sacrificing any of their stoned/snotty attitude – the melodies that had always been there were just moved more to the surface, and the songs benefitted for it. Their set was probably too short for some – it was just right for me – but those who want more should be pleased that Wavves are back for a headlining show at the Opera House on September 29 and Williams will probably be happy to be back with better on-stage sound.
Photos: Wavves @ Garrison Common – August 3, 2013
MP3: Wavves – “Hippies Is Punks”
MP3: Wavves – “I Wanna Meet Dave Grohl”
MP3: Wavves – “Cool Jumper”
MP3: Wavves – “TV Luv Song”
MP3: Wavves – “Horse Shoes”
MP3: Wavves – “Mutant”
Video: Wavves – “That’s On Me”
Video: Wavves – “Afraid Of Heights”
Video: Wavves – “Demon To Lean On”
Video: Wavves – “Sail To The Sun”
Video: Wavves – “No Waves”
Video: Wavves – “Post Acid”
Video: Wavves – “Bug”
Video: Wavves – “King Of The Beach”
Video: Wavves – “So Bored”
Video: Wavves – “No Hope Kids”
As mentioned, the original Grove lineup was a commendably diverse one and it’s a unfortunate that when the dust settled, it was basically split into half guitar rawk acts and half electro-dance acts, and sandwiched in the middle was Earl Sweatshirt. For those not up on their hip-hop who’s whos, Thebe Kgositsile was claimed to be the most talented of the Odd Future crew and after releasing his debut Earl mixtape in 2010, was sent to a boarding school in Samoa until his 18th birthday and basically disappeared from sight… until he didn’t. At any rate, Sweatshirt is now firmly back in the public eye with a new album in Doris ready for release in a couple weeks on August 20. If his mother was intending to deter him from a music career, she clearly failed. And if you thought that an act whose setup should have only required a live mic and a laptop plugged into the PA would have had the easiest setup of the fest, you’d have been wrong. Technical issues delayed the start of Sweatshirt’s set by a good 10 minutes, or a third of his allotted time. They eventually got things going and Sweatshirt delivered a set from the edge of the stage, his delivery low-key but intense and his short songs wrapped in a fair bit of conversational banter. It felt more like an introduction than a proper set, but if there was one thing the Grove was getting right, it was keeping on schedule, so on things went.
Photos: Earl Sweatshirt @ Garrison Common – August 3, 2013
MP3: Earl Sweatshirt – “Between Friends”
MP3: Earl Sweatshirt – “Chum”
Video: Earl Sweatshirt – “Hive”
Video: Earl Sweatshirt – “Whoa”
Video: Earl Sweatshirt – “Chum”
Video: Earl Sweatshirt – “Earl”
It was easy to tell who the Gaslight Anthem fans were, because of all the acts they were the ones whose fans proudly wore their t-shirts, no doubt purchased at the many previous Gaslight Anthem shows they’d attended, including their show at the Sound Academy just last December. All of which is to say that the New Jersey outfit has clearly garnered a loyal fanbase over its seven-year, four-album existence. That said, this would be my first time seeing them and it’s kind of a shame that frontman Brian Fallon appears to be wearying of the E-Street allusions because likening them to a punk rock Springsteen is neither insult nor inaccurate, at least from a superficial, first-impression perspective. It was easy to see how the big, riff-fueld anthems of resolutely meat-and-potato rock’n’roll could engender such fan loyalty; it’s designed for rebellion, disaffection, and just being young. So while being an old person I didn’t necessarily feel it, I totally understood it. Kids, I was once like you.
Photos: The Gaslight Anthem @ Garrison Common – August 3, 2013
Video: The Gaslight Anthem – “Here Comes My Man”
Video: The Gaslight Anthem – “Handwritten”
Video: The Gaslight Anthem – “45”
Video: The Gaslight Anthem – “Bring It On”
Video: The Gaslight Anthem – “American Slang”
Video: The Gaslight Anthem – “Great Expectations”
Video: The Gaslight Anthem – “Old White Lincoln”
Video: The Gaslight Anthem – “The ’59 Sound”
Video: The Gaslight Anthem – “I’da Called You Woody, Joe”
Video: The Gaslight Anthem – “Drive”
The setting for my previous and only Girl Talk experience couldn’t have been more different from this one, but even if there’s no comparing a 4AM set on the shores of the Mediterranean to a 7PM set in the shadow of the Gardiner Expressway, one thing was certain – it’d be a whole lot of fun. Bringing dancers from the crowd to fill out the stage while he kept the top 40/classic rock/hip-hop mash-up machine going, Gregg Gillis and company doused the audience in confetti, toilet paper, balloons, and good vibes. What’s to say? If you’ve seen/been to a Girl Talk show, you know exactly what it was. If you haven’t seen/been to a Girl Talk show, you should really see/go to a Girl Talk show.
The Stranger talks to Gillis about the art of the mash-up.
Some would argue that it was an injustice giving Hot Chip just a 40-minute set; surely with five albums of fantastic electro-pop to their name and a reputation for stellar live shows, they should have gotten a little more time in? Perhaps, in the original Grove configuration of two stages tag-teaming sets it could have happened, but as it was, they – like everyone else playing – was up against the clock. But if there was a positive side to this, it was that they opted to fill every minute of the time they were given with the hits – less the ballads – and nothing but. I’d last seen them in April 2010 behind One Life Stand – I missed last Summer’s tour for In Our Heads – so my data points aren’t complete, but I daresay I’d not seen the band be so energized and into the performance before – it was like they were more into putting on a show than just soundtracking the party. And so despite sound complaints – prevalent throughout the day but especially critical for Hot Chip’s set – partying did occur.
Tom Tom has an interview with Hot Chip’s (relatively) new drummer, Sarah Jones, formerly of New Young Pony Club. If you were wondering. I was.
Photos: Hot Chip @ Garrison Common – August 3, 2013
Video: Hot Chip – “Don’t Deny Your Heart”
Video: Hot Chip – “Night & Day”
Video: Hot Chip – “Look At Where We Are”
Video: Hot Chip – “How Do You Do”
Video: Hot Chip – “Flutes”
Video: Hot Chip – “I Feel Better”
Video: Hot Chip – “One Life Stand”
Video: Hot Chip – “One Pure Thought”
Video: Hot Chip – “Ready For The Floor”
Video: Hot Chip – “The Warning”
Video: Hot Chip – “Over And Over”
Video: Hot Chip – “Colours”
Video: Hot Chip – “And I Was A Boy From School”
Video: Hot Chip – “Playboy”
The rise of Phoenix from likeable but hardly beloved indie-pop band to massive worldwide stars post-Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix and, with the release of this year’s Bankrupt!, top-tier festival headliners, has been fascinating to watch. There’s those who don’t believe the band deserve it and are akin to one-hit wonders hanging out at the rock’n’roll hall of fame – and it’s true, with their ascent built largely on the back of one massive album or, more specifically, a couple of massive songs, their path to the biggest poster font is markedly different from those legacy acts with decades-long careers, even if their best work is inarguably behind them. But what that also means is that Phoenix’s fans are young and thus far less jaded or weary of festivals – so yeah, with the band having been off the road and out of sight for more than a couple years, their base is excited and sure as heck buying tickets to see them. The onus, really, is on the band to prove that they belong there. And based on their pulverizing one-hour, Grove-closing set, Phoenix belong.
Starting a bit late on account of setting up their massive light show gear, their set opened with a blazing “Entertainment” and, perhaps wanting to prove they didn’t need to hold their biggest songs back, were onto “Lisztomania” by the third number. What’s interesting is that fundamentally, Phoenix’s live show hadn’t really changed since I last saw them in June 2009 – Thomas Mars still climbs the monitors, gladhands the audience, and basically gives it his all while his five bandmates are as tight as tight gets – but the scale of the presentation has been necessarily amped up and what impresses is how naturally they’ve grown with it. They don’t seem at all out of place in the big spotlight, on the big stage, and if anything, they look as though they’ve been there all along and were just waiting for everyone to catch up with them. Even with just an hour to work with, they crammed in a baker’s dozen songs – including “Sunskrupt!”, their amalgam of instrumental “Love Like A Sunset” and mostly-instrumental “Bankrupt!” – as well as a huge finale/reprise of “Entertainment” to close the show. Phoenix skeptics may have a point in the long term; Bankrupt! is a solid record but hasn’t reached Wolfgang-level heights, so come their next album, it’s no sure thing that Coachella, Lollapalooza, et al will be calling, but for now, in 2013, this is where they belong.
The Grid grabbed an interview with Phoenix prior to the festival.
Photos: Phoenix @ Garrison Common – August 3, 2013
Video: Phoenix – “Trying To Be Cool”
Video: Phoenix – “Entertainment”
Video: Phoenix – “1901”
Video: Phoenix – “Lisztomania”
Video: Phoenix – “Consolation Prize”
Video: Phoenix – “If I Ever Feel Better”
Video: Phoenix – “Long Distance Call”
Video: Phoenix – “Twenty-One One Zero”
Video: Phoenix – “Run Run Run”
And so The Grove. While many aspects of the fest were well-conceived and seemed to be undone by pure bad luck, although that doesn’t excuse other issues with the event – poor communication, dodgy sound, expensive concessions – that promoters with the experience that Goldenvoice have (they do Coachella) should have avoided. It seemed that by show time, the organizers were just trying to keep their heads down and get it over with without anyone dying or losing more money and even if much of the audience weren’t actual paying attendees, they still deserved better. There’s no question that there exists an opportunity for a festival in Toronto on the same weekend as Lollapalooza and Osheaga – pretty much every band playing both will be driving down the 401 that August long weekend – but it’s hardly the no-brainer it might appear. Any event would be at the scheduling mercy of those two big players, and considering that both – especially Osheaga – counts a strong Toronto demographic in their attendees, there’s not a lot of incentive to make it easy for acts to play all three cities, not that it’s necessarily easy in the first place – logistics are a bitch. Still, I hope/believe that something will rise up to fill this niche – whether it’s The Grove, valuable lessons learned and ready for another round, or someone else who thinks they can get it right, we shall see. And if someone does try, they’d be well advised to consult The Grid‘s helpful roundup of some of the music festivals that have tried – and failed – to make it work in the 416. Man, this town.